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Anticipating free-agent exodus, Rams’ draft plan to secure secondary is at forefront

The Rams' Darious Williams intercepts a pass intended for Philadelphia Eagles' J.J. Arcega-Whiteside last season.
The Rams’ Darious Williams (31), shown intercepting a pass intended for Philadelphia Eagles’ J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (19) last season, should start opposite Jalen Ramsey, but will be a free agent after the season.
(Laurence Kesterson / Associated Press)

As the Rams prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 2 of 8: Defensive backs.

The Rams defense aims to repeat in 2021 as one of the NFL’s best, but it will do so without key personnel from the 2020 secondary.

Safety John Johnson, the defensive signal-caller, and slot cornerback Troy Hill, who scored three touchdowns, signed free-agent contracts with the Cleveland Browns. Cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant left to become the Detroit Lions’ secondary coach.

New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who succeeds Brandon Staley, inherits two starting cornerbacks — star Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams — and a group of talented young safeties. Ejiro Evero, safeties coach the last four seasons, is now overseeing the entire secondary.

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Ramsey, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is regarded as one of the best defensive players in the league, and is expected to again be deployed in multiple roles. Williams elevated in stature by intercepting four passes last season, returning one for a touchdown.

The Rams appear set with the pass catchers, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be looking for more speed in the NFL draft.

David Long, a third-year pro, will compete for the versatile role that Hill played last season in a scheme that uses multiple defensive backs. Second-year pro Terrell Burgess also is expected to vie for the job. Burgess, a third-round draft pick in 2020, was taking advantage of increasing opportunities before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Safety Taylor Rapp, a second-round pick in 2019, is set to return after sitting out training camp and the final seven games last season because of knee injuries. Jordan Fuller, who supplanted Rapp and intercepted three passes, could fill Johnson’s role.

Nick Scott was drafted in 2019 mainly for his special teams skills, but showed last season he can also play in a rotational role on defense. Burgess also can play safety.

Under contract for 2021: Ramsey ($9.7 million), Williams ($4.8 million), Rapp ($1.3 million), Long ($1.1 million), Burgess ($1 million), Dont’e Deayon ($920,000), Scott ($869,000), Fuller ($823,000), Jake Gervase ($780,000), JuJu Hughes ($780,000), J.R Reed ($780,000), Tyrique McGhee ($660,000).

Free agents: Johnson signed a three-year contract with the Cleveland Browns that includes $24 million in guarantees. Hill also signed with the Browns, a two-year deal that includes $4.5 million in guarantees.

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Draft: Williams is playing on a one-year, restricted free-agent contract, so the Rams could be looking for cornerbacks. With Evero having displayed talent for quickly developing rookie safeties, the Rams might give him another opportunity with this class.

Roster decisions: Ramsey is the cornerstone around which the Rams will make all decisions in the secondary. Williams is due to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

NEXT: Offensive line.


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